Everything has led to this.
Our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf’s original Championship in the build-up to The 150th Open at St Andrews in 2022.
This latest article focuses on the 1890s, which featured notable amateur successes, significant expansion of the Championship and the emergence of the Great Triumvirate.
Ball breaks new ground and begins era of English success
John Ball Jnr made history on three counts in the first Open of the new decade.
Courtesy of a three-stroke triumph at Prestwick, Ball became both the first Englishman and the first amateur to win the Championship.
In addition, he was the first man to win The Amateur Championship and The Open in the same year, a feat since repeated only once, by the great Bobby Jones in 1930.
Prior to Ball’s triumph, The Open had been won exclusively by Scottish golfers, but the 1890s would provide a significant sea change in that regard.
Only two of the 10 Opens in this decade were won by Scottish players, Hugh Kirkaldy and William Auchterlonie in 1891 and 1893 respectively, while the Championship was also played outside of its country of origin for the first time, moving south of the border to England as it visited Royal St George’s in 1894 and Royal Liverpool in 1897.
Harold Hilton, another amateur, followed Ball in becoming an English Champion Golfer, winning at Muirfield in 1892 and again on home soil at Hoylake five years later.
The other non-Scottish Champions in the 1890s were two men who would come to enjoy unprecedented success in The Open.
Taylor and Vardon make their mark
Harry Vardon of Jersey and England’s J.H. Taylor each made their Open debuts at Prestwick in 1893, while Scotland’s most successful ever golfer, James Braid, featured for the first time at Sandwich the following year.
Astonishingly, the trio known as the Great Triumvirate went on to amass 16 Claret Jugs between them over the next two decades.
While Braid had to wait until 1901 to claim the first of his five victories in golf’s original Championship, Taylor and Vardon each enjoyed significant success in the last decade of the 19th century.
Taylor was victorious in his second and third appearances at The Open, winning the first Open in England at Royal St George’s in 1894 before defending his title at St Andrews.
Vardon then triumphed at three of the next four Championships from 1896, either side of Hilton’s second win at Royal Liverpool.
In their 17 combined appearances at The Open from 1894 to 1899, neither Vardon, Taylor nor Braid finished outside of the top 10 – no mean feat given the ever-increasing number of fellow competitors.
A new era of Champions
Vardon’s first triumph, at Muirfield in 1896, coincided with Old Tom Morris’ final Open appearance at the age of 74.
As the Grand Old Man of Golf finally said farewell to the Championship 36 years on from featuring in the inaugural Open, it was clear a new generation of players had come to the fore.
Vardon, Taylor and Braid were all born between February 1870 and March 1871, meaning they were in their mid-20s when they first started to contend for the Claret Jug.
In fact, every single Open in the 1890s was won by a player in their twenties, a statistic that has yet to be repeated in any subsequent completed decade.
The Champion Golfers of the 1890s
1890, Prestwick – John Ball Jnr (a)
1891, St Andrews – Hugh Kirkaldy
1892, Muirfield – Harold Hilton (a)
1893, Prestwick – Willie Auchterlonie
1894, Royal St George’s – J.H. Taylor
1895, St Andrews – J.H. Taylor
1896, Muirfield – Harry Vardon
1897, Royal Liverpool – Harold Hilton (a)
1898, Prestwick – Harry Vardon
1899, Royal St George’s – Harry Vardon
Did You Know?
The first two amateurs to win The Open, John Ball Jnr and Harold Hilton, were both members of Royal Liverpool, where Hilton triumphed in 1897. Since Ball and Hilton's respective successes, Bobby Jones is the only other amateur to have lifted the Claret Jug.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1890s: 25
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1890s: Three Englishmen (Ball, Hilton & Taylor), two Scotsmen (Kirkaldy & Auchterlonie), one Jerseyman (Vardon).